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Valuing the diverse economies and climate possibilities of a winter festival in Western Maine, USA

Valoriser les opportunités économiques et les ressources naturelles. Le festival Bill Koch (Maine, États-Unis)
Valorar las oportunidades económicas y los recursos naturales. El festival Bill Koch en el oeste de Maine, EE. UU.
Matthew McCourt et Gabriel Perkins


Récemment, dans l’ouest du Maine, un groupe de bénévoles a participé à la préparation du parcours d’une course de ski de fond inscrite au calendrier régional, dans des circonstances météorologiques marquées par le manque de neige. Leur contribution, décisive pour le succès de cet événement sportif, leur a donné l’idée de bâtir une économie diversifiée sur les sports d’hiver. Ce projet s’est rapidement matérialisé sous la forme d’un événement sportif de plus grande ampleur. Celui-ci comprenait une épreuve sportive d’un nouveau genre combinant le ski de fond et la marche, ainsi qu’un service de navettes assurant la liaison avec les lieux d’hébergement et le parking. À partir du cadre théorique établi notamment par les travaux de Gibson-Graham, les organisateurs de ce festival ont collaboré avec des chercheurs pour calculer la valeur du travail bénévole ainsi que l’empreinte carbone de l’événement. Cet article reprend ces résultats pour évaluer les avantages de l’économie diversifiée et solidaire, au plan social, économique et environnemental.

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1 In March 2016 a regional nordic ski race was relocated to the small town of Bethel, Maine, due to warm weather, rain, and lack of snow coverage at the original venue. Warming conditions and low snow coverage during western Maine winters are not unprecedented, but over the past decades these episodes have become more common, disrupting winter recreation and recreation-based tourism (Fernandez et al. 2015, Scott et al. 2008, Wobus et al. 2017). In response to this climate disruption, local volunteers quickly mobilized to rescue the event. Working late into the night a diverse group of community members, assembled by a local outing club, shoveled snow by hand from the woods to the race course, covering bare spots and paving the way for the ultimate success of the event.

2 The Bethel volunteers were galvanized by their shared labor in the face of climate uncertainty threatening the nordic ski race. During their shoveling, conversations began about hosting future events that would encourage and enact broader efforts at climate mitigation. In the language cultivated by economic geographers (and others) working under the banner of “diverse economies,” the work of the Bethel volunteers produced a “resubjectivation” (Gibson-Graham 2006) or “subjective transformation” (Snyder and St. Martin 2015: 32) as the group gained a sense of its own possibilities, its own capacity as a collective. Rescuing the nordic race led directly to the volunteers planning and hosting a larger nordic ski festival, the Bill Koch Festival, for the following March. With nearly 400 competitors, from ages 5 to 14, the Bill Koch Festival is the marquee youth event of the New England Nordic Ski Association (NENSA).

3 Hosting the Festival represented an expansion of the volunteer group’s capacity. Moreover, the local Festival organizers incorporated an explicit climate focus and climate-mitigating program into its promotion and event programming. The Festival theme was “Protect Our Winters,” shortened to POW, inspired by a climate change advocacy organization by that name led by winter athletes ( Festival promotional materials touted an experiment in a walkable/skiable event venue with shuttle buses providing transportation to lodging and off-site parking facilities. In doing so, the group exemplified what Cameron and Hicks (2014), working in the vein of diverse economies, call a “climate politics of hope,” where experimentation and new possibilities can emerge from climate uncertainties and setbacks.

4 During the planning for the Festival, organizers worked with nearby University faculty and students to collaboratively design a visitor survey that would assess local tourism impacts and the efficacy of the Festival’s climate mitigating strategies. This paper considers the results of that assessment of tourism impacts using the framework of diverse economies, mentioned above. Specifically, we use an inventory of volunteer time and visitor spending data to estimate the impact of volunteer labor expended in planning and staging of the Festival. In addition, we quantify the amount of avoided carbon emissions that resulted from the organizers carbon mitigation strategies.

5 Before clarifying the critical insights of the diverse economies perspective that we use to analyze our survey results, it is important to examine critical accounts of tourism development in its northern New England geohistorical context, paying particular attention to the ways critical accounts of tourism have privileged the conflicts and contradictions that tourism has produced.

Conflict and Contradiction in Northern New England Tourism Development

6The Festival this study examines took place in a specific regional context that influenced the diverse economies that the festival organizers and volunteers produced. Bethel is a small town of 2,600 residents in western Maine with a century-long history as a tourism destination (Howe 2009). The town serves two nearby alpine ski resorts and contains a 30 km in-town network of nordic ski trails spread out among private and public schools, resorts and private land. Gould Academy, a private high school founded in the mid-1800s, is a major local institution anchoring the village with impressive indoor and outdoor facilities that amply accommodated the Festival.

7Bethel retains a connection to the forest products industry in its remaining lumber mill. But much of its formal employment is tied to tourism, including restaurants and lodging, resort operations, second home development and allied activities. While it may be classified as an amenity rural community, Bethel also faces challenges associated with demographic change, declining school age population, and tensions between long-time residents and newcomers. Nonetheless, the town and its immediate surroundings maintain a vibrant civic life with over 60 active nonprofit organizations, several of which were engaged in organizing the Festival.

8Bethel belongs to the northern New England region, which has traditionally celebrated the limited role of large-scale social institutions, including the state, in civic life. This privileging of the local manifests itself in deliberative political forums like town meeting (Bryan 2003), environmental politics guided by grassroots organizations (Judd 2003), communal holdings of land resources (McCullough 1995), and other decentralized, locally-embedded aspects of social life (Miller and Williams 2013). Dense civil society networks that inspire regional veneration of local institutions continue to sustain events like public suppers, agricultural fairs, old home days, and other town festivals. Nonetheless a series of compelling critical histories of human-environmental relations across the northern forest region (i.e., spanning northern New England and New York) depict persistent conflicts between large and powerful interests, like land speculators and industrial capital, pitted against local and often disenfranchised stakeholders. For example, Rolde (2001) and Jacoby (2001) track recurring clashes between proprietors of large land holdings versus rural settlers engaged in subsistence agriculture and hunting, often without clear title to land. In Jacoby’s account of the late nineteenth century formation of the Adirondack Park (Jacoby 2001), industrial elites used conservationist policies and regulations to dispossess settlers in order to reshape northern New York into a leisure landscape. These conservationist policies were informed by a “degradation discourse” that “prophesized imminent ecological doom, unless natural resources were removed from local control and placed in the hands of scientifically trained governmental managers” (Jacoby, 2001: 15). Notwithstanding the ultimate success of park promoters, Jacoby’s study is attuned to the role of local associations, particularly the regional guides associations, in mediating the tensions between elite outsiders and residents, while also supporting efforts to protect a threatened environment.

9Critical studies of New England tourism development also tend to emphasize the role of powerful elites in remaking the material landscape to suit their own, often regressive, interests. For example, Conforti’s thorough critical study of New England regional identity (Conforti 2001) contains a detailed analysis of the role of the “white village” as a “cultural refuge” (see also Wood, 2002). In the midst of nineteenth-century urban industrialization and immigration, colonial revival summer resorts drew “residents from the city who sought the small-town simplicity and ethnic homogeneity of the past” (Conforti 2001: 234). Conforti examines the coastal town of York, Maine, where residents seeking to profit from resort development joined forces with elite urban dwellers: “Assisted by locals who now saw their past as a cultural and economic resource, summer residents restored homes, renovated public space, and began to organize and display Old York’s history” (2001: 240). The landscape was remade into a summer resort to fit the values of continuity, stability, cultural homogeneity: “[C]olonial revival tourists, summer residents, and local boosters reinvented Old York as an embodiment of unmodernized, picturesque New England” (237). In Conforti’s account of the coastal resort, tourism promoters, whether local or seasonal, advance a retrograde politics of cultural purity in their staging of quaint “Old New England” pastoral landscapes.

10 Harrison’s in-depth examination of Vermont’s tourism landscapes (Harrison 2006) manages multiple perspectives on tourism as it examines the tensions and overlaps between tourists’ and residents’ interests. Harrison documents a century of conflicts, as well as collaboration, as tourist development intersected with agricultural restructuring, the growth of trail and transportation networks, new modes of recreation, changing demographic patterns and new land use regulations. His analysis of mid-twentieth century ski area development tracks the accommodations between promoters and locals as “[n]ew social norms, new architectural styles, and new technological encounters with recreation all helped to redefine landscape and identity …according to…a modern leisure economy” (2006: 185). Following writers such as Aron (1999) and Urry (1990), Harrison is particularly attuned to the work of tourism, the labor of producing the landscapes, amenities and experiences that tourists consume (2006: 10-12). When low wage seasonal employment fails to match the expectations heightened by economic development interests (2006: 190-191), Harrison emphasizes the resulting dependencies that generate resentments fueling ongoing social conflicts between locals and tourists.

11 Brown’s landmark critical history of New England tourism (Brown 1997) provides a thorough account of regional tourism development from its beginnings in late-eighteenth and early nineteenth century travels. Brown uncovers the emergence of a far-reaching tourism industry driving land speculation, industrial development, the expanding reach of wage labor, and most often overwhelming local attempts at control. For instance, Brown argues: “Nantucket’s local providers of tourist services…were more or less at the mercy of the fantasies and projections of affluent visitors” (1997: 166). On the other hand, Brown acknowledges the alignment of interests between tourists and agricultural destinations. For example, in northern New England, Brown finds “a fortuitous ‘fit’ between the needs of the northern farm economy and the desires of urban tourists [meant] the two were able to take advantage of one another” (1997: 166-167). Yet, the benefits realized by agricultural interests working for “a viable and renewable agricultural economy” (Brown 1997: 167) are compromised and ultimately overcome by tourism promoters’ interests in cultivating “a nostalgic imitation of rural life—a place where urban people could play out their fantasies of rural values and experiences.”

12 For Brown, the reach of tourism goes beyond shaping regional identities and livelihoods: “[T]ourism played a key role in creating a consumer-oriented society and economy [by] lur[ing] tourists into a world where all experiences were for sale” (1997: 6, original emphasis). Tourism businesses are able to “disguise” the economic transaction and “overcome residual resistance to consumer relations” (1997: 6). In Brown’s account, “[t]ourism offered tourists satisfaction through acquisition (in this case, the acquisition of experiences), emotional fulfillment through spending money” (1997: 12, original emphasis). As a result, tourism is an especially insidious evolution of capitalist relations that produces “the ultimate contradiction of middle-class life in capitalist societies, in their century or ours” (Brown 1997: 12).

13 Critical analyses of New England tourism development like Brown’s make a valuable contribution to understanding the role of tourism and tourists in regional identity, landscapes, political economy and broader social relations. In casting a critical lens on conflict and contradiction these accounts reveal the contested and uneven process of tourism, raising important questions for investigation or intervention into tourism practices. But they also produce a framing of tourism where locals all too often either “cash in,” capitulating to tourism’s elites, or, less often, are able to resist specific instances of tourism development. This type of critical framing is ill-suited to the kinds of collaborative research that the Festival represents because it fails to recognize tourism as a site for community-based initiatives that seek solutions to economic and global environmental challenges. In order to better address the transformative work of the Festival organizers, we turn in the next section to the perspective provided by diverse economies.

Diverse Economies Framework in Tourism

14 The political project of diverse economies has its beginnings in the poststructuralist critique of Gibson-Graham (1996) that contested dominant representations of the economy as singular, totalizing and all-powerful. From Gibson-Graham’s perspective, political economic scholarship that adopted this dominant “capitalocentric” view tended to devalue and obscure transformative projects by a range of actors, particularly small-scale community workers that produced the Festival we are examining here (2003, 2006).

15 More than two decades of diverse economies scholarship has questioned the “capitalocentric” narrative that Gibson-Graham targeted, in order to highlight alternative economic relations and organizational forms. Gibson-Graham (2006) develop a “diverse economy framework” that helps categorize and thereby uncover the significant portions of the economy which operate outside: 1) formal market transactions, 2) wage relations, and 3) capitalist enterprises. This diverse economy framework highlights the nonmarket transactions (e.g. gift giving, state appropriations, gleaning, etc.), unpaid or alternative paid labor (family care, volunteering, time-banking, etc.), and noncapitalist enterprises (e.g., nonprofits, cooperatives, etc.) that already exist alongside the capitalist market, wage relations, and enterprises that preoccupies the dominant narrative (2006: 71). By recognizing the vitality of these alternative forms, the diverse economies framework overcomes the debilitating narrative of capitalocentrism by populating the field of diverse economies with examples of actually existing alterative and noncapitalist practices.

16 As Gibson-Graham and allied scholars sought to “contribute to the exciting proliferation of economic experiments occurring worldwide” (2008: 613), they have engaged with activists, organizers and community workers in a wide range of economic activities including food and alternative agriculture (Cameron 2015; White 2013), worker cooperatives (Cornwell 2011), collective action and alternative social movements (Roelvink 2016), resource management (St. Martin 2005; Snyder and St Martin 2015), international migration flows (Safri and Graham 2015), and many other realms.

17 Tourism is especially well-suited to a diverse economies perspective because it is widely recognized as a diverse sector that includes large resorts as well as small sole-proprietor and communal enterprises, often linked in cooperative as well as competitive arrangements. Nonprofits and civil society groups play a crucial role in tourism promotion, operations, etc., especially in event tourism (Gibson 2009; Getz 2008). For instance, Gibson resists the notion of singular “tourism industry” in light of the “fragmented and complex” organizational forms that tourism takes: “Tourism’s thirst for ‘the new,’ reliance on local knowledge and low entry barriers have triggered further fragmentation, specialization and diversification…a function of slippages across capitalist and non-capitalist and formal and informal sectors” (2009: 528). Likewise, Mosedale (2013) has recently argued that the complexity of tourism activities call for a diverse economies perspective. Following Gibson-Graham, Mosedale attends to the emergent alternatives through the framework of nonmarket transactions, alternative labor or class relations, and organizational forms illustrated in Table 1 below. For instance, Mosedale recognizes viability of alternative organizational forms in the growing role of CSR (or corporate social responsibility) in tourism (2013: 197), as well as noncapitalist forms of communal tourism development based on shared ownership of resources leading to village-wide distribution of economic gains in Xidi, China (2013: 198, citing Ying and Zhou2007).

18 In terms of labor, Mosedale recognizes “numerous forms of alternative paid or unpaid labor in tourism” (2013: 202) including self-employment, in-kind compensation, and volunteer tourism (also called voluntourism). Mosedale provides the example of the World Opportunities On Organic Farms (Woof) network that connects backpackers in search of knowledge of alternative agricultural methods to host farms where they exchange their labor in return for food, lodging and hands-on learning (2013: 202, citing McIntosh and Campbell 2001; McIntosh and Bonneman 2006; Mosedale 2009). Furthermore, Mosedale points to an array of tourism transactions that occur apart from monetary or market exchange including barter, home swapping, discretionary/voluntary contributions, gift giving, state funding of cultural institutions as well as illicit transactions.

19 Even from Mosedale’s preliminary overview, it is clear that tourism’s complex economies include more complex transactions, labor, and organizational forms that the one-dimensional dominant narrative would allow. Still, Mosedale acknowledges, “[t]he inherent difficulty of quantifying and measuring alternative…economic practices…offers governments and researchers a pretext to disregard, ignore or trivialize these economies” (2013: 195). This study attempts to address this difficulty by estimating the value of volunteer, non-wage labor that produced the Festival, and thereby uses a diverse economies framework to highlight the transformative work of the Festival organizers.

The Diverse Economies of the Festival

20 The 2017 Bill Koch Festival which this study analyzes is also the site of intersecting diverse economies that can be categorized in terms of the capitalist, alternative, and noncapitalist forms of enterprises, transactions and labor, as Mosedale and others have done (see Table 1 below). The Bethel Outing Club partnered with a regional nonprofit New England Nordic Ski Association as lead organizers, which in turn coordinated with a local trails nonprofit (Mahoosuc Pathways) and a nonprofit private school (Gould Academy). Thus, the enterprises central to the Festival organizing, hosting and operations were alternative and noncapitalist organizations, as opposed to profit-maximizing, capitalist firms. Moreover, event donors, vendors and volunteers represented an array of socially responsible firms, artists, local food producers and other noncapitalist enterprises in addition to the profit-maximizing family firms, franchise and national businesses that the nearly 800 Festival participants used when attending the event.

21 Festival participants and organizers engaged in alternative and nonmarket transactions as part of their participation. Festival organizers identified numerous instances of supplies and equipment that were donated or shared. Specialized and expensive grooming machinery, emergency equipment, race supplies, awards and souvenirs, biathlon rifles, waxes and waxing equipment and an array of other types of materials were shared freely or according to socially negotiated arrangements outside formal market conditions of supply and demand. Perhaps most significantly, the Festival drew on over 150 volunteers consisting mainly of local, year-round residents. In addition to the work of a core organizing team of 8-12 civic leaders, local citizens including students from the preparatory school and high school contributed their volunteer labor. In some cases local organizations that contributed labor were partially remunerated through distribution of registration fees, but in most cases the work of hosting the Festival was unpaid. Concerns among local civic leaders over the sustainability of high levels of volunteer labor led to our efforts to use a diverse economies framework to estimate the value of the Festival’s volunteer labor, in terms of the (predominantly) market transactions that visitors reported in a survey of their spending at the event.

Table 1 – Actors and Actions in the Diverse Economies of the Festival

Adapted from Gibson, Cahill and McKay 2015; Gibson-Graham 2006; Gibson Graham, Cameron and Healy 2013; Mosedale 2013.

The Festival Survey

22 In order to better understand the diverse economies of the Festival, a survey of the event was used to estimate the value of volunteer labor measured in terms of visitor spending. Festival organizers worked collaboratively with academic partners to design the survey. University faculty and students initially drafted a survey that would perform a traditional travel cost analysis of the event. This approach, corresponding to the dominant narrative of the economy, threatened to obscure the work of the volunteers. In response, members of the organizing committee referred back to the shared experience of shoveling snow through the night to rescue the previous year’s nordic ski race, registering at once the exhaustion and inspiration of that effort, as well as the urgency of climate mitigation to secure the future of winter recreation. Several nonprofit leaders spoke to the challenge of sustaining high levels of volunteer labor, expressing concerns about burnout among their membership. One leader said, “We do all this work and we’re not sure what it’s worth.” These leaders helped create an audit of volunteer labor that could be paired with our estimate of visitor spending to value the volunteer work in terms of the monetary transactions they helped produce.

23 Another organizer resisted the draft survey’s tendency to reduce the value of the Festival to visitor spending and spoke passionately in favor of a broad vision of a community connected by trails for walking and skiing. For this leader the skiable village vision was both place-affirming and climate mitigating. The vision was rooted in the previous year’s rescue of the nordic race and it was at the heart of the Festival’s “Protect Our Winters” theme and the climate mitigating strategies that included a system of parking restrictions, wayfinding signage, and shuttle buses to lodging and offsite parking lots. In the planning meeting he forcefully advocated for this hopeful vision, urging, “Now is the time…to test this thing we’ve been talking about.” To do so, we incorporated questions about visitors’ travel distances and fuel economy into the survey to estimated emitted and avoided carbon, as well as open-ended questions that would gauge the meaning of the event for visitors. The collaborative design process led to substantial and welcome changes to the survey instrument we used, leading us to take a diverse economies approach that would recognize the value of the community labor and climate politics that shaped the Festival.

24 Students administered the survey to 73 of 794 estimated Festival visitors. Those who took part in our survey gave us information on their travel spending, average household income, their home zip code and the fuel efficiency of their vehicle (i.e., used to estimate carbon emissions), as well as their opinions about the experience of the Festival, ideas for improvements, and willingness to return to Bethel.

Figure 1 - Map of Festival Participation

Figure 1 - Map of Festival Participation

25 Unlike the warming temperatures of the previous year’s race, the Festival was challenged by extreme cold and wind. Temperatures hovered around -15 degrees Celsius with 30-40 km/h winds. Organizers responded to the extreme weather conditions by relocating the race course to a more sheltered location and utilizing the Gould Field House to keep racers and spectators warm. Feedback to open-ended survey questions reflected the extreme weather conditions. In response to a question crafted to capture the less quantitative, intangible values Festival organizers were interested in ( “What three things you will you remember?”), participants coded responses’ highlight the “cold,” “the wind,” and “the sun” (see Figure 2). But the most common aggregate set of responses (30%) referenced people and organizing, either “friendly people,” “volunteers,” “incredible organizing,” “happy kids,” “family.” Participants also frequently (24%) reported facilities and conditions (the trails, course conditions, etc.) were memorable. These Festival “memorables,” emphasizing the social aspects of the event experience as well as the amenities organizers provided, testifies to the intangible value of the volunteer labor. To estimate the quantitative, tangible value of volunteer labor, we used survey respondents’ reported spending.

Figure 2 – Word cloud of event “memorables”

Figure 2 – Word cloud of event “memorables”

Valuing Festival Labor

26Our 73 survey respondents reported $33 641 in total spending at the Festival. Because we had independent data on the number and geographic composition of registrants from an online registration system, we were able to extrapolate from our survey responses to Festival totals for the 794 estimated visitors. (Our extrapolated totals may underestimate total visitors and spending because they do not account for last minute, on-site registrations.) Based on our extrapolation the Festival generated $102 792 in direct visitor spending. A breakdown of spending shows more than half ($55 999) was spent on lodging, another quarter ($27 036) spent on food, with merchandise, gear and gasoline making up most of the remainder (see table 2). In addition, $18 000 in registration fees was returned to local organizations, so the direct local spending totals $120 792. While this figure might be useful in its own right, it was more important as the basis for a valuation of volunteer labor, one of the chief goals the Festival organizers.

Table 2 – Visitor spending

Spending Categories

Survey Totals

Event Totals


$2 481

$7 581


$8 848

$27 036


$2 135

$6 524

Grab & Go

$1 418

$4 333


$5 295

$16 179





$1 075

$3 285


$2 065

$6 310


$18 327

$55 999


$4 795

$14 651


$11 402

$34 839



$1 528


$1 630

$4 981



$2 368

Surveyed spending

$33 641

$102 792


$18 000

Event spending

$120 792

27In order to use the total direct spending to generate a simple estimate of the value of unpaid labor, an audit of Festival volunteer work needed to be completed. We audited volunteer time using records for the event, combined with our own participant observations. We documented nine meetings that involved between 8 and 12 people on the organizing committee. We spent over 148 hours in planning and coordination. An additional 132 hours were expended in phone calls, emails, negotiations with vendors, sponsorships, totaling 280 total hours of organizing. During the Festival, we accounted for the 75 separate tasks, fulfilled by 150 volunteers. The signup sheet for those tasks records 330 hours of volunteer time that can be accounted for. Our estimates then, have 610 total volunteer hours leading to $120 792 in direct spending. By dividing the total spending by total volunteer hours, we determine that each volunteer-hour produced over $198 in direct, local spending.

28Some visitor spending would entail market transactions with a variety of capitalist enterprises including local small businesses, especially in lodging, where it would in turn support wage labor, while other transactions supported nonprofits, member NGOs and, in some cases, communal enterprises. Moreover, this valuation is partial, because there is also uncounted wage and alternative paid labor that is expanded? during the Festival. And for that matter there may be unpaid or alternative paid transactions that are not taken into account. But for Festival leaders, this valuation—estimating that each volunteer-hour leads to nearly $200 of cash transactions—shows how their unpaid work sustains community economies. The experience of auditing volunteer labor also helped local leaders develop strategies for future, more complete inventories of volunteer effort.

Measuring Climate Mitigation

29 In keeping with the Festival’s “Protect Our Winters” theme and organizers’ goals of testing the skiable village, the survey performed a carbon accounting of transportation required by the event. We used driving distance from participants’ home zip codes to estimate that 63 406 miles were driven to get participants to the Bethel event and back home. Based on reported fuel efficiencies we calculated that that amount of driving consumed 2 556 gallons of gasoline. Using US EPA estimates (19.6 pounds of CO2 equivalent per gallon of gasoline), the total CO2 equivalent emissions amounted to 50 097 lbs CO2E for all visitors traveling to and from the Festival.

30 Travel to and from the event is generally considered the single largest contributor to a sporting event’s carbon emissions, but a full carbon accounting would need to include grooming, transport of organizers and volunteers, lifecycle accounting of materials (production, transport, waste disposal), space heating, and other categories. That said, the idea of the skiable village, animated by the Bethel volunteers’ rescue of the nordic race, led to Festival organizers’ main climate mitigating experiment: providing and promoting the use of transportation alternatives between lodging sites, satellite lots, and the race venue. The organizers saw the use of parking restrictions paired with shuttle buses and marked ski trails as a way to encourage participants to leave their cars parked. Survey responses indicated that participants traveled a total of 1 289 miles within Bethel using these alternative modes of transport. Using respondents’ reported fuel efficiencies, we can estimate that these transport miles avoided 1 023 lbs CO2E that would have been emitted by personal vehicles.

31 The avoided emissions are relatively small compared to the amount of total emissions. The climate mitigating strategies do not solve the central dilemma of winter recreation that requires long-distance travel and mechanized grooming to participate. But providing transportation alternatives allowed the Festival organizers to test their vision of a skiable village. The “Protect Our Winters” program and theme raised the importance of climate and environmental impacts for Festival attendees. The open-ended responses in the survey showed general receptivity to the POW program.


32The Festival organizers, animated by their shared labor of rescuing a nordic race, planned and successfully hosted a greatly expanded event that incorporated systematic efforts to measure volunteer labor as well as effective climate mitigating strategies. Their efforts fit comfortably within broader regional narratives of local initiative and a robust civil society. The Festival organizers’ attention to the value of volunteer labor, as well as alternative organizational forms, aligns well with the diverse economies framework, while disrupting the dominant critical tourism narrative which casts local actors as powerless in the face of tourism development.

33The considerable amount of market transactions generated by unpaid labor, alongside the other aspects of the Festival’s diverse economies, present a promising way of sustaining winter sports tourism by supporting alternative, nonprofit, independent and communal enterprises as they undertake event organizing. Documenting and affirming the sharing of equipment and materials and other socially negotiated transactions that led to successful co-hosting of the Festival helps local enterprises stage future collaborative events. The diverse economies of the Festival continue to reverberate through local organizations as they use alternative and noncapitalist transactions when exchanging equipment, such as snowfencing, grooming machinery, or signage, as well as event planning tools and relationships.

34The example of the Festival also shows that citizens coming together to confront climate uncertainty through their shared labor can activate what Cameron and Hicks (2014) call a “climate politics of hope.” As Cameron and Hicks point out: “[G]rassroots initiatives are innovating with what is at hand[. R]ather than being defeated by inevitable obstacles they are finding ways of maneuvering around and through various challenges” (2014: 67). In Bethel, ‘innovating with what is at hand’ started with shovels, headlamps, tractors, lightweight grooming equipment, and enormous amounts of volunteer labor. And, in their effort to enact climate possibilities through the Festival mitigation program—the early steps toward a skiable village—the Festival organizers found new ways to work with their built landscape, integrating trails development and stewardship—forging new and difficult institutional relationships and harnessing larger commitments of community labor. By doing so, the Festival organizers were, in Cameron and Hicks words, “actively promoting further multiplication of small endeavors by acting as demonstration projects that others can learn from…and broadcasting what they are doing” (2014: 68).

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Table des illustrations

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Titre Figure 1 - Map of Festival Participation
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Titre Figure 2 – Word cloud of event “memorables”
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Matthew McCourt et Gabriel Perkins, « Valuing the diverse economies and climate possibilities of a winter festival in Western Maine, USA »IdeAs [En ligne], 12 | Automne / Hiver 2018, mis en ligne le 05 novembre 2018, consulté le 30 septembre 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Matthew McCourt

Associate Professor, Geography and Environmental Planning. University of Maine at Farmington.

Gabriel Perkins

Executive Director. Mahoosuc Pathways.

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